America’s Craziest Roadside Attractions

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America’s Craziest Roadside Attractions
I recently wrapped up a 9.5-month road trip across the United States. In the company of my boyfriend and two Chihuahuas, we explored more than 80 cities in 26 states and put 22,234 miles on my trusty Nissan Versa. We saw some pretty wacky things along the way, many of them beckoning us from the side of the road. What follows are eight of my favorites—and no, neither Cadillac Ranch nor The Thing made the cut.
By Ashlea Halpern, AFAR Contributor
Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Spud Drive-In Theater in Driggs, Idaho
    Nestled at the edge of ID-33 in Teton Valley is a sight you have to pull over to fully appreciate. Parked at the entrance of the 63-year-old Spud Drive-In Theatre is a flatbed truck towing what claims to be the world’s largest potato. Look closer and you’ll see that the truck is being driven by two human-sized potatoes. Yup, you’re in Spud Country now. Movie tickets, in case you’re wondering, are $7 for “Spectaters,” $6 for “Seasoned Tots,” and $4 for “Small Fries.” Because of course.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    The Coffee Pot in Bedford, Pennsylvania
    From a water tower shaped like a catsup bottle in Collinsville, IL, to a shell-shaped Shell gas station in Winston-Salem, NC, America has no shortage of novelty architecture. One of the finest examples stands at the entrance of the Bedford Fairgrounds in southwestern PA, about two hours from Pittsburgh. The 18-foot-tall roadside relic started life as a gas pump and luncheonette in the late 1920s. Other businesses inhabited it over the years, but eventually the lights went out and the building fell into disrepair. Preservationists came to its rescue in 2004, restoring the landmark and moving it across the street. These are the detours road trip dreams are made of.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Flintstones Bedrock City in Williams, Arizona
    When driving from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to miss this colorful paean to cartoon kitsch. Built in 1972, the 30-acre park was one of a handful of Flintstones-themed campgrounds scattered throughout the country. The Hanna-Barbera show was already off the air by the ’70s, but syndication had made household names out of Fred, Wilma, and the rest of the gang. And like Yogi Bear’s Jellystone campgrounds, these places were catnip for kids. Bronto slides, chickasaurus burgers, saber-tooth tiger statues—what bored-out-of-his-skull 8-year-old wouldn’t beg his parents to stop? This particular Bedrock City was put up for sale last year. If you don’t have $2 million to spare, you can shell out $5 for entry to the theme park. It receives relatively few visitors these days and the emptiness makes it feel surreal.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    “Seven Magic Mountains” in Jean, Nevada
    Located off I-15, about 40 minutes south of Las Vegas, this towering installation by avant-garde Swiss artist Ugo Rondionone is a real traffic stopper. The neon sculptures were made in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno and the Art Production Fund, the nonprofit behind that lonely Prada store in Valentine, TX. Rondionone mined the colossal limestone boulders from a state quarry, painted them in fluorescent hues, and stacked them up like the world’s most dangerous Jenga game. The seven totems scrape the sky at 32 feet, and they’re a wonder to see both up-close and from a distance.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Hogan Trading Post in Mancos, Colorado
    The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ, gets all the Instagram love, but I’d argue that the tepees at Hogan Trading Post on Colorado’s Highway 160 are cooler. You can’t stay the night here, but you can selfie it up in front of titanic conical tents, giant arrows, and an authentic mud hogan. The post itself dates to the 1960s; inside you’ll find American Indian baskets, pottery, jewelry, rugs, and gemstones, many sold for a pittance. It’s the perfect diversion en route to Mesa Verde National Park.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Christ of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
    There’s no missing Magnetic Mountain’s crowning glory: A 67-foot-tall, 2-million-pound Jesus statue. The mortar-and-steel monument was crafted by Emmet Sullivan, who earned his chops working on Mount Rushmore, and paid for by Gerald L.K. Smith. It was completed in 1966. Elsewhere on the “Holy Land” property, you’ll find a 4,100-seat amphitheater used for seasonal passion plays, a bible museum, an Israeli bomb shelter, and, somewhat oddly, a large hunk of the Berlin wall.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota
    Whether you’re headed to Mount Rushmore or Badlands National Park, there’s no way you’re missing the hundreds of billboard signs advertising Wall Drug. I cursed myself for enjoying this place, but driving past with your nose in the air is akin to a first-time NYC visitor refusing to take a look at Times Square. You gotta go at least once. Wall Drug was founded by a Nebraskan pharmacist in 1931, but business didn’t take off until he started offering free ice water to passing motorists. Suddenly, the owner had lines around the block. His family seized upon the opportunity and, to this day, runs one of the most visited roadside attractions in the country. What exactly does one do at Wall Drug? The question is: What don’t you do? Shop for silly tees, 3-D postcards, and mounted jackalopes in one of a dozen gift shops. Order a milkshake at the old-fashioned soda fountain. Say a little prayer in the chapel modeled after an 1850s Trappist monastery. Or, you know, ride a six-foot-tall fiberglass jackalope in the on-site photo park. Embrace the corniness and you’ll walk away with a new appreciation of the phrase “tourist trap.”
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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    Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma
    The greatest attraction on Route 66 isn’t a place, it’s a person. Harley Russell, self-proclaimed “redneck hoarder,” has stuffed his curiosity shop with vintage signs, mannequin heads, glass bottles, and paint cans. He’s happy to share the story behind whatever object catches your eye, but don’t bother asking for prices; nothing here is actually for sale. If you’re lucky, Harley will pick up his guitar and strum you a tune (“Get Your Kicks [On Route 66],” most likely), take a swig (or three) of whiskey, tell a dirty joke (or 10), and maybe invite you back to his house, aka the “redneck castle and sanitarium,” for a tour. It’s as fascinating and memorable as you would imagine.
    Photo by Ashlea Halpern
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